From mending stoplights, to repairing downed power lines, to plowing snowy streets, or protecting our communities, the people who drive fleet vehicles are the heartbeat of our communities. Fleet operators have important jobs to do, but they can sometimes be targeted by those with bad intentions.
There are certain steps fleet operators can take to both make themselves less of a target, and to protect themselves when they are targeted.
Former police officer, vehicle crash investigator, and expert vehicle crash reconstruction witness Phil Moser now works as the Associate Director of Driver Safety for Syneos Health. His extensive background has helped him guide fleet drivers on ways to protect themselves during their day-to-day operations.
Moser was joined by Syneos Health Fleet Services Director Kristin Leary at the 2023 Fleet Forward Conference in November to share ways fleet managers can safeguard their drivers.
Don’t Engage in Road Rage
Stories of road rage that end tragically seem to make headlines daily. Oftentimes, these incidents can stem from aggressive driving behaviors. These behaviors include:
- Excessive speeding.
- Quick lane changes.
- Weaving in and out of traffic.
Moser urged fleet managers to educate their drivers on avoiding these types of behaviors. Not only do they put peoples’ lives in danger, but they can also result in devastating consequences. Moser also stressed the importance of avoiding escalating situations after someone else has driven aggressively around a fleet operator.
“You never know who's in the other vehicle. Stay calm. If somebody is doing something, you don't reciprocate,” Moser said.
It’s especially crucial to avoid making eye contact with other drivers that you perceive are driving aggressively around you. To them, eye contact may be seen as aggression, leading them to want to reciprocate.
Engaging in conversation with the window rolled down or when the other driver tries to approach your vehicle can also lead to trouble.
If you find yourself in this situation, Moser recommends staying in the vehicle, double-checking that the doors are locked, and driving away. If there is a significant threat, call 911 immediately. You making that phone call may also encourage the threat to back off.
How to Avoid Carjacking and What to Do if You Are
Carjackings are on the rise, and fleet operators are not immune to them. In a summary of the FBI’s 2022 crime report, CBS News reported that carjackings were up 8.1% in 2022 compared to the previous year.
Nearly 90% of all carjackings involved a weapon. The data also revealed nearly half of carjackings occur between 8:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m.
Moser urged drivers to park in well-lit areas and be extra vigilant in areas with a high incidence of carjackings.
He also warned of a growing trend he called “the bump.” In these scenarios, a driver may bump your vehicle. When you get out of your car to inspect the damage and talk to the other driver, they will use that opportunity to steal your vehicle.
When involved in any type of crash, Moser advised drivers to stay in their vehicles and assess the situation.
“If it just doesn't feel right, go with those instincts. Dial 911. If it's at night — especially at night — flashers on, dome light on, [signal the other driver to] follow you to a police station if you know where the nearest police station is. If there's a convenience store with a lot of people and a lot of light, go there,” Moser said.
When stopped behind another vehicle, stop far enough back that you can see the next vehicle’s rear tires. If you can’t see the rear tires, you’re too close. This will help you give yourself a way out if you are in an environment where you would otherwise be stuck like a red light at a busy intersection.
“If you're tight up against somebody and somebody else pulls tight up against you, you’re blocked in, you have no place to go, and you're an easy victim. Give yourself an out; always leave yourself escape space for safety,” Moser added.
Similarly, drivers should pull through parking spaces when possible. In some instances, criminals may target drivers who have just parked their car, boxing them in and leaving them with no escape.
There is a well-known tactic drivers should be wary of in parking lots. It involves putting a piece of paper or money under a windshield wiper. When the driver returns to their car, gets inside, and sees something on their windshield, they will likely get out to inspect that.
This is often the moment they become a victim. They are not as aware of their surroundings as they get out of their vehicle, so a criminal will target them in this way.
In the event that a fleet operator falls victim to carjacking, Moser wants them to know that their life is far more valuable than the vehicle.
“You really want to make sure that people understand that we don't care about the car. We care about the people. Cars can be replaced, people cannot. Make sure they really understand that,” Moser stressed.
Preventing Vehicle Theft and Break-Ins
Vehicle thefts and break-ins are also on the rise. In 2022, motor vehicle thefts trended upward by almost 11% compared to the previous year, with nearly one million vehicles stolen.
While some criminals are determined enough to steal a car by any means necessary, there are some steps drivers can take to hopefully lessen the changes of a vehicle theft.
Some very basic ways fleet operators can hopefully make their vehicles less of a target include keeping the windows up while parked, hiding valuables from view, and turning the car off at every stop along the route. In the few seconds it takes to run back into the office or to the side of the road to pick something up, someone can steal your vehicle.
Moser also reminded drivers to never leave their keys in the vehicle. It may seem like an obvious tip, but it’s something he says happens more often than you’d think.
“If they see a push button, they push the button to see if it starts. And if it starts, it's because the fob is in the vehicle somewhere. And so guess what? They're driving off with it,” Moser explained.
In most cases where criminals have attempted to open vehicles and turn them on, fobs left inside has been one of the main causes of the vehicle theft, Moser said.
Another thing to be wary of: having multiple copies of a key in the vehicle. If you put one in the glove compartment and forget about it, a criminal can drive off with the vehicle. Leary suggested fleet managers put policies in place to help prevent this.
“Our policy basically states that at any point in time, if you're not in the vehicle, the fob must go with you, and you must lock the door. And then if your car does get stolen, you have to send us an image of both fobs in one picture,” Leary said. “And the other part of our policy states that you cannot keep both fobs together. Because we had somebody do that. And he left both of them in the car and the car got stolen. So leave one fob in a safe place at home, and take the other one with you.”
The Never-ending Case of the Stolen Catalytic Converter
Catalytic converter thefts have been a threat to fleets and vehicle owners alike for several years, and it’s a trend that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
Leary shared about an effort by many law enforcement agencies to etch VINs on the vehicle’s catalytic converter. When it’s obvious that it was stolen, it’s likely harder to sell.
Some practical ways fleet managers can protect parked vehicles include keeping the parking lot well lit, investing in security cameras, and considering building a security fence.
The Little-Known Dangers of EV Charging
As more fleets adopt electric vehicles, there are certain safety precautions both fleet operators and managers should take.
When charging the vehicle, drivers should exercise the came caution they do while at the gas pump. Bad actors can target unsuspecting drivers charging their vehicles.
For fleets that only allow charging at their own facilities, operators may not be targeted as often.
For fleets that rely on public chargers, operators should consider the location of the charger. If it’s in an area where the operator does not feel safe, they should avoid that charger and find one in a more public setting that is well lit.
Leary encouraged fleet operators to stay in or close to their vehicles.
“If you walk away from your car, when you come back, you could be subjected to crime. Lock the vehicle and lock your charge port. What’s cool about a lot of the vehicles now is if you lock the vehicle, someone can’t unplug your car as it’s being charged. Make sure you lock your vehicle whether you’re in it or not,” Leary said.
Fleet operators should also inspect the cables before plugging them into their vehicle to make sure no one has tampered with them to try to disable the vehicle and strand the driver.
Another risk associated with public chargers is the potential for hacking. Similar to credit card skimmers, criminals are also targeting charging stations. Fleet managers should monitor operators’ payment card accounts to keep an eye out for suspicious activity.
If you offer home chargers for fleet operators, remind them that the chargers need to be in a secure location. Charging cables are increasingly being targeted because they have copper in them.
Practical Steps to Include in Daily Routines
Newer vehicles with key fobs typically unlock when the fob gets close to the vehicle. This is a setting that can be disabled to help protect fleet operators as they approach their vehicles.
Likewise, drivers should not unlock their vehicle using the key fob when they are far away from it.
When drivers get to their vehicles to start their shift, one of Moser’s policies for drivers is to do a walkaround of the vehicle before entering it.
This not only helps them be aware of new damage that may have occurred, but it also helps them ensure no one is waiting for them to unlock the door so they can hop in the passenger side.
Leary noted another policy which states that fleet drivers can’t leave company property or personal belongings in their vehicle in plain sight. Insurance often doesn't cover personal belongings in work vehicles anyway.
When taking steps to protect fleet operators, Leary said it all comes down to education. Make them aware of the risks and teach them ways to minimize those risks.